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Remember Who You Are! 

A Sermon Celebrating 

the 75 th Anniversary 


Myers Park 
United Methodist Church 

Charlotte, North Carolina 

Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey 

October 29, 2000 



Myers Park Methodist Episcopal Church, South, as it 
was originally named, was organized in 1925 and held 
its first service of worship on October 25, 1925, in the 
chapel in Queens College Burwell Hall. About one 
month later, the congregation purchased the property 
located at the intersection of Queens and Providence 
Roads. The wooden store which occupied this site was 
converted into a temporary sanctuary seating about 200 
people. By Christmas, church services were being held 
here, Charter membership was closed on December 31, 
1925, with 151 charter members. On the occasion of its 
75 th anniversary, Myers Park United Methodist Church 
has over 4,000 members. 


Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey is Bishop of the 
Columbia Area of the United Methodist Church. He 
served as Senior Pastor of Myers Park United Methodist 
Church from 1991-1996, when he was elected to the 




Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 

Remember Who You Are! 
J. Lawrence McCleskey 

75th Anniversary Sermon 
Myers Park United Methodist Church 

Charlotte, NC 
October 29, 2000 

Romans 12:1-21; Matthew 5:1-2. 13-16 

It's a new breed of thief. They steal the identities of 
persons. These are people who use the tools of the 
information age to impersonate other persons, some of 
them dead, and order hundreds of thousands of dollars 
worth of merchandise in their names. I saw the headline 
in USA TODAY just a few months ago (May 8, 2000): 
'ALL THE TIME.'" The article went on to tell of a 
number of instances in which cyberspace criminals 
literally stole the identities of living and recently 
deceased business executives by getting access to bank 
and credit card account numbers, Social Security 
numbers, and other vital information, which was then 
used to carry out wire transfers of funds and order 
diamonds and Rolex watches, which were delivered to 
hotel addresses where the thieves picked up their booty. 
The good news was that two men had been arrested and 
charged with 29 counts of such theft. The bad news is 
that "identity experts 11 say this kind of theft is relatively 
easy and 'happens all the time. 11 

None of us here would want to have his or her identity 
stolen in that manner. None of us would want to lose the 

identifying marks of who he or she is in this way. Our 
identities are important to us, and we want to maintain 

That is certainly true of us as individuals. I believe it is 
also true of us in other ways. For instance, I believe that 
the identity of institutions is also vitally important, and I 
want to explore with you on this 75th anniversary 
Sunday some aspects of the identity of this institution 
we know as Myers Park United Methodist Church. First, 
a bit about the importance of identity. 

Jean Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher, could be 
said to have lived by the philosophy that "to be is to do." 
Descartes, the philosopher famous for the phrase, "I 
think, therefore I am," could be said to have lived by the 
philosophy that "to do is to be." Someone once 
suggested that the singer, Frank Sinatra, lived by the 
philosophy of "Dooby, dooby, doo." 

It's a basic issue of life: the relationship between "do" 
and "be" - between doing and being. The question is 
simple: does our doing reflect our being? Does what we 
do, how we act, the manner 

in which we live, truly reflect who we are, our true 
identity? Are we true to who we are? If not, 
it may not be that our identity has been stolen - but that 
we have given it away. 

Have you noticed how often Jesus defined himself not 
by what he did but by who he was? Look 
at the numerous times in the gospel of John when Jesus 
referred to his own identity, his being. He referred to 
himself in significant ways, saying in these instances, "I 

-Messiah, he who is called Christ (4:25-26) 

-the bread of life (6:35, 41,51) 
-the gate for the sheep (10:7 & 9) 
-the good shepherd (10:11 & 14) 
-the resurrection and the life (1 1 :25) 
-the way, the truth, and the life (14:6) 
-the true vine (15:1 & 5) 
-and, twice to the soldiers looking for Jesus of 
Nazareth, "I am he." (18:5 & 8) 

It is obvious that Jesus regarded his identity as 

Jesus was also concerned with the identity of his 
disciples. The gospel text from Matthew makes that 
abundantly clear. It comes from The Sermon on the 
Mount. Following the Beatitudes, those pithy summaries 
of the kinds of living which Jesus tells us characterize 
lives committed to the rule of God, Jesus gives us two 
admonitions which are words about identity: "You are 
the salt of the earth .... You are the light of the world." 
It's as if Jesus is saying, "You are to flavor the life of the 
world by your own lives, by your faithfulness to this life 
of which I have spoken. And you are to bring light to the 
world by your own lives, your faithfulness to the life I 
have taught you. 11 The key is whether his disciples 
remain true to their identities - whether they remain true 
to their calling. The key is identity. It's another way of 
Jesus telling his disciples that when they remember who 
they are the role of God is extended in the world. 
"Remember who you are! The work of God depends on 
it. 11 

So I say to this congregation on this anniversary Sunday 
- as you celebrate 75 years of ministry and step into the 
next 75 and more: Remember who you are! Hold fast to 
your identity! Don't let it be taken from you! And don't 

give it away by simply not remembering! The work of 
God in this place depends on it. The thing that will keep 
you faithfUl into the future is the thing that has kept you 
faithful in the past! Remember who you are! 


And what a marvelous identity it is! 


This congregation, founded in 1925, moved quickly to 
build this structure in which we are gathered for worship 
today. Groundbreaking was held and the cornerstone for 
this sanctuary was 

laid in 1929. On March 9, 1930 the congregation 
worshiped in this building for the first time. There was 
built into the structure itself a clear and lasting reminder 
that this community of faith is grounded in Jesus Christ. 
There are two side entrances at the rear narthex of the 
sanctuary, and over each of them is an inscription. Both 
inscriptions come from the gospel of John, from words 
Jesus used to identify himself. Over the one on the 
Providence Road side is inscribed: "I am the way. 11 And 
over the entrance on the Queens Road side is inscribed, 
"I am the door." The presence of these words over those 
entrances to this sanctuary is an intentional way of 
saying from the very beginning, "We are a community 
grounded in Jesus Christ." 

Margaret and I had the wonderful privilege a little over a 
year ago of visiting Zimbabwe, where we spent two 
weeks visiting in congregations and mission stations of 
The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe and one 
week at Africa University. One of the visits was to a 

rural community named Nenohwe. I met there the pastor 
and a group of members of the Nenohwe United 
Methodist Church. They took me to their church 
building, which was under construction. They were 
making the bricks for it themselves, and they had 
already made 60,000 bricks. They had laid the 
foundation with stone gathered from the surrounding 
fields, and inside the foundation they had placed dirt and 
rocks to make the floor. The next step was to be the 
raising of the walls. They wanted me to pray for their 
church. I began to bow my head to pray, and they 
stopped me - until we could all gather INSIDE the 
foundation. Then I prayed. I have no doubt about the 
vitality of that congregation. They will never build a 
structure as magnificent as this one in which we are 
gathered this morning, but there is no question about the 
magnificence of their spiritual foundation. It is the same 
as this one. Two congregations: One in Zimbabwe, with 
a hundred persons at the most, in a rock, dirt, and 
homemade brick building constructed by the worshipers. 
One at the corner of Queens and Providence Roads in 
Charlotte, worshiping today in a sanctuary constructed 
and paid for by persons long since gone to glory. But 
both of them grounded in Jesus Christ, the Lord of the 
Church. You know the truth of what we sang at the 
beginning of this service of worship: "The Church's One 
Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord." You are A 

have been nurtured in worship - weekly worship. First it 
was in the auditorium at Queens College. Then it was in 
the community store which occupied this site prior to 
the construction of this sanctuary. I have loved, since I 
first heard it. almost a decade ago, Bob Dalton's 

observation. Bob, as most of you know, is still in this 
congregation, a son of one of the founding members of 
the church. I have loved it, Bob. He said, "I have been 
coming to this corner for bread all my life." And for the 
last 70 years you and others have come to this building 
for the bread of life. Again, an inscription, this one over 
the main entrance at the rear of the sanctuary: "Enter To 
Worship." They knew from the beginning, those who 
founded this church, that central to its identity was this 
act of worship. 

Worship has been called the most distinctive identifying 
aspect of the church. The worship of God is the one 
thing the church does that no other institution in our 
society does. There are other institutions which provide 
educational experiences. There are other institutions 
which serve the 

needs of people. But the church is the only institution in 
our society which regularly, as part of its identity and 
life, gathers for the worship of God. 

Think for a moment about the power of worship in this 
place over 75 years. It has not been the same for all 
those years. The sanctuary itself has changed: in the 
beginning the pulpit was in the center, with the choir 
behind - until the chancel was divided and the altar 
moved to the wall and a beautiful dossal cloth added in 
the early 1950's. The order of service has changed 
numerous times over the years. The pipe organ was not 
here at the beginning, and it has been rebuilt in the last 
five years. Some worship now at Church in the Round. 
The congregation has long ago grown past the point that 
everyone can get inside to worship together. There have 
been changes - these and others. But the essential thing 
is that there has been worship here at Queens and 

Providence for 75 years, at the center of the life of this 

When in Zimbabwe last year I visited Mutambara, one 
of the mission centers of The United Methodist Church 
there. I saw the elementary and high schools, and the 
machine shop where students are taught welding, auto 
repairs, small engine repair, and where they maintain all 
the vehicles of the Mutambara Mission Center. Then I 
visited the hospital - 124 beds, serving 130,000 people 
in the Chimanimani District of Eastern Zimbabwe. One 
of three physicians who were there at the time was Dr. 
Rudy from Wisconsin. When he retired from practice in 
Wisconsin in 1994 he went back to Mutambara, his 
second tour there. He and the other physicians and 
nurses deliver 85-100 babies per month. The physicians 
handle the Caesarean and problem deliveries; midwives 
care for all the rest. There is a "Waiting Mothers Home" 
with 24 beds for women in the last month of pregnancy. 
They care for themselves, cooking their meals 
communally on open air stoves under a covered outdoor 
shelter. Two of the wards in the hospital deal with 
tuberculosis; 90% of those patients are HIV positive. Dr. 
Rudy talked about the shortage of staff, the problem of 
aging equipment, the challenge of treating patients the 
majority of whom will die from preventable diseases 
(AIDS and malaria). I asked him how he coped with all 
those challenges, and in response he showed me the 
chapel, where the hospital staff worship together every 
day from 7:00 to 7:30 a.m. Remarkable! The power of 
worship to nurture and renew life, to strengthen us for 
the challenges, to bind us into community. 

What has it meant that for 75 years, at this place, the 
people of God in this congregation have gathered to 
worship? What has it meant in terms of encouragement 

for life's challenges, direction in focusing service, 
nurture in the shaping of values, the deepening of the 
life of the spirit, the transformation of minds from 
conformity to the ways of the world to conformity to the 
will of God, undergirding for families in times of 
celebration and of crisis? You are A COMMUNITY 
WORSHIP. And the power of that identity promises to 
continue for the near and distant future. Never 
underestimate the power of that identity. 



And there is one more thing: You are A COMMUNITY 
one of the remarkable things about this congregation - 
your commitment to mission, your commitment to reach 
out beyond yourselves and touch the needs of persons 
whom you will never know with the grace and love of 
Jesus Christ. 

When we left you and went to South Carolina a little 
over four years ago, I continually encountered one 
specific question about this church. 'Tell us, 11 people 
would say, "about that capital campaign - the one in 
which you gave away almost half the money for mission 
causes. 11 For you, in a way, that kind of thing was simply 
another example of letting your doing express your 
being - of acting in a manner consistent with your 
identity. Look at the history of this congregation: 

-for years one of the leading churches in 

Methodism in giving to Advance Special mission 


-for years gathering in a magnificent Easter 

offering to be distributed to a variety of mission 

causes outside your own walls; 

-for years providing unprecedented support, in 

both dollars and people, to the Bethlehem Center 

in Charlotte; 

-for years annually sending persons on mission 

teams to places near and far around the globe, 

youth and adults - building teams, medical 

mission teams, Habitat teams, hurricane and 

flood relief; 

-demonstrating in these and so many ways that 

you know that to be the church means that you 

are called to give yourselves away in the name of 


Let me go to Zimbabwe one more time - to Africa 
University. When Margaret and I entered that campus 
for the first time in August, 1999 we were thrilled to see 
students there playing soccer and basketball on playing 
fields and courts provided by this congregation. 

I have heard that you are in the planning stages of a new 
campaign - to provide much-needed additional facilities 
for the expanding ministries of this church. I have also 
heard that you will include in this campaign as well an 
outreach component so that, even as you take the next 
step in construction for the ministries here, you will also 
reach out with ministries to others. How do I respond to 
hearing that? I said, "Of course! That's who this church 




So today we celebrate: 75 years of ministry. We 
celebrate that past and its identity: 


Out of that past you will create your future. 

'To be is to do?" 

"To do is to be?" 

Or, "Dooby, Dooby, Do?" 

Maybe that's it, after all. "Dooby, Dooby, Do." 
Do/Be/Do/Be/Do! Let your doing flow from your being. 
That's what this church has worked at for 75 years. The 
Hymn of Promise has it right: 

"From the past shall come the future ..." 

What a past to celebrate! 

What a future to create! 

Anniversary Week 

Wednesday, October 25, 2000 

Seasons of Love: A 75 th Anniversary Gala - 6:00pm, Westbrook 


This church-wide celebration is on the exact date of the establishing 

of MPUMC. Enjoy a nostalgic musical evening featuring dinner 

and the sights and sounds of the past 75 years. 

Thursday, October 26, 2000 

The Riga Dome Boys Choir from Latvia - 7:00pm, Sanctuary 
A choir of musically gifted boys, professionally trained and 
accompanied by tenors and basses, represents the finest European 
choral tradition. This choir was unknown to western audiences 
prior to 1989, although it was quite famous within the Soviet Union. 
During the last decade it has toured the world and received 
international acclaim from Japan to North America and throughout 

Friday, October 27, 2000 

Fall Family Fest - 7:00pm Westbrook Hall 

Children and their parents dress up in their finest costumes and join 

in this night of games, fun. and surprised. The Family Fest features 

everything from hay rides, space walk and temporary tattoos to an 

old-fashioned cupcake walk. 

Saturday, October 28, 2000 

Fall Service Day - 9:00am - Noon. Aldersgate Hall 

Meet for juice and doughnuts then break into groups for service 

projects both at the church and at various MPUMC supported 

agencies throughout Charlotte. Childcare for ages 2 and under. 

Service projects for ages 3 -third grade will be held in Aldersgate 

Hall. All ages invited. 

Sunday, October 29, 2000 

Anniversary Sunday Worship - Sanctuary 8:30 and 1 1:00am, 

Church in the Round 9:00am 

Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey, Sanctuary Preacher 

Chapel Choir, Brass Charlotte, and Percussion. 

Reception in Westbrook Hall following 11:00am Service.